BUTTE — Even back when Caleb Bellach was a star forward for a Manhattan Christian basketball squad that had grown accustomed to an annual tradition of tangling with juggernaut Arlee in the State C championship, Montana Tech head coach Adam Hiatt recognized the kind of impact he could have for a collegiate team.
"We saw the potential that he had," Hiatt said. "We knew that he'd be key to building the program to the level where we are now. We felt he was the missing piece last season and then he was a great piece to build around this year."
Montana State also recognized Bellach's ceiling and he joined the Bobcats for his freshman season. But after seeing limited minutes, he decided to enter the transfer portal in March of 2021.
The Orediggers weren't about to squander the opportunity to entice Bellach to play for his father Jeff's alma mater in Butte.
Almost immediately after finding Bellach's name in the portal, Hiatt and his son Jaxon made the trek to Bozeman to meet with him over dinner. That conversation extended to nearly midnight.
"We were not going to leave anything to chance," Hiatt said. "Just because his dad played here didn't mean anything. You have to go and make sure that he understands we have a vision for him."
Hiatt and Bellach shared the same lofty goal — to win Frontier Conference championships.
"Everything that we told him and everything that he told us has come to pass," Hiatt said.
A week ago from today we clinched the regular season title. Our guy @kyletorgerson11 captured the moment.— Montana Tech Basketball ⚒️ (@MTechHoops) February 16, 2023
Enjoy. 🔥⚒️🏀#RollDiggs I #TeamTogether I #Back2Back pic.twitter.com/QP3yDtuz7E
Bellach's 2021-22 sophomore season with Tech coincided with one of the most successful campaigns in Oredigger history. And on the way to regular season and Frontier Conference tournament championships, Bellach quickly evolved into Tech's second-highest scorer, ending the season just 17 points shy of All-American Sindou Diallo.
Last year, Hiatt saw Bellach as "the missing piece." This season, he's the main scoring show.
Behind a team-high 523 points from Bellach — so far — Tech (24-4 overall, 12-3 in conference play) has secured back-to-back regular season titles and a top seed at the upcoming Frontier Conference Tournament at Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. The Orediggers are also now sitting at No. 10 in the NAIA Coaches' Poll, their first Top 10 ranking in program history.
And, in the regular season finale on Saturday against MSU-Northern — a game that ended with a walk-off three pointer from Tech's Michael Ure to secure a 64-63 win for the Orediggers — Bellach joined his father as a member of Tech's 1,000 points club.
🚨 HISTORIC MILESTONE 🚨— Montana Tech Basketball ⚒️ (@MTechHoops) February 19, 2023
Last night, in only his 58th career game, @BellachCaleb joined his dad, @JBelly10 in a prestigious club.
Congrats to Caleb, who has many more points to add his resume, and the entire Bellach family.#FamilyLegacy I #RollDiggsForever pic.twitter.com/PPkP9uZb9R
He entered the game eight points shy of that prestigious mark and scored the necessary eight points in the first half.
Bellach wasn't aware how close he was to hitting 1,000 points but, knowing that he now shares that accomplishment with his dad — who he won the 2019 State C title with — is meaningful.
"That's pretty awesome," said Bellach, who needed just 58 college games to eclipse 1,000 points. "That was one of the reasons I came here was because my dad was a special player here. I wanted to leave an impact like my dad did."
"What a great accomplishment for him to follow in his father's footsteps here and just leave his own legacy," Hiatt said. "But he's done it in a fairly rapid pace. He's got a lot more points in him."
He certainly does, but the primary focus now is emerging as Frontier Tournament champions for the second straight season. And in a conference where it seems any team can win on any given day, the Orediggers know that delivering back-to-back wins in Great Falls next week is anything but guaranteed.
"It's tournament time and anything can happen," said Bellach. "Anyone in our league is capable of beating anybody. We gotta make sure we do what we're supposed to do."
Said Hiatt: "We know that ever single team in this league is a quality team, extremely well-coached. Anybody can beat anybody. We had so many games that were down to the wire. And we don't expect anything different up in Great Falls.
"Our guys are locked in, dialed in, it's going to be an exciting week."